Signing on to be in “Mrs. America” was eye-opening for Rose Byrne in many ways, including her understanding the history of feminism in America. “Well, I thought I was familiar with it and then once I signed on, I was like, ‘I don’t know half of this story,’” she tells us in our recent webchat (watch the video above). But what made doing this project so interesting to her, in addition to learning about the struggles for gender equality in America, was having the story told from the viewpoint of Phyllis Schlafly, who was leading the fight against it. “What’s so clever about the show is that the entry point for the audience is really through Phyllis Schlafly. She really is a female anti-hero in the true sense of the word in that she’s written by a woman and she’s also fighting for… homemaker’s rights whether you agree with what she was campaigning for or not, but she really was a feminist anti-hero.”
Byrne portrays journalist/activist/feminist icon Gloria Steinem in the FX limited series who, among many accomplishments, co-founded “Ms.” magazine in the early 1970s. The series chronicles the years-long battle to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment into the United States Constitution. The opposition to the ERA is lead by Schlafly (Cate Blanchett) and her Stop ERA organization. In addition to Steinem, the fight to ratify the amenmdent is lead by Rep. Bella Abzug (Margo Martindale), Betty Friedan (Tracey Ullman), Jill Ruckelshaus (Elizabeth Banks) and Rep. Shirely Chisholm (Uzo Aduba).
Taking on the role of Steinem was also incredibly intimidating but for Byrne, getting a chance to act alongside this cast of performers was something she couldn’t pass up. “It was so fantastic having all these scenes with these brilliant actresses. To be a part of the tapestry of the show was really why I wanted to be a part of it,” she explains. She adds that she would have loved to have a scene with Blanchett but also wishes she could have had on screen interactions with Melanie Lynskey and John Slattery as well, the latter of whom she describes as having a massive “actors crush” on.
Byrne also discussed what it’s been like getting to have a career that’s spanned many genres from comedy (“Bridesmaids”), to horror (“Insidious”) to dramatic thrillers (“Damages”). “Being able to do lots of different things is always a thrill to me.” Still, she does single out doing comedic roles as being particularly difficult but is very quick to give credit to the her scene partners in helping her to perform the roles. “I’ve been so lucky to work with these brilliant comedic actors and actresses and learned from them, basically, and they make it look so effortless but it’s actually very hard. It’s just like drama but on top of that, you have to get a laugh.”
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